Editor’s note: Over the course of the summer, Next Impulse Sports will be releasing NFL team previews every Tuesday and Thursday. Check back on Thursday for the Green Bay Packers Edition.
Today: The Chicago Bears
Last Year: 8-8 (2nd place in NFC North, missed playoffs)
Let’s be real. Being a Bears fan has been dreadful experience since the 2011 “Jay Cutler isn’t tough” NFC Championship game when the Bears lost to their rivals in the North, the Green Bay Packers. It’s been only disappointment since.
In the 2011 regular season, Chicago roared off to a 7-3 start, but when Johnny Knox slipped on a slant route against the Chargers, Cutler broke his thumb trying to tackle his interceptor. Cutler would miss the rest of the season and the Bears would finish 8-8 and miss out on the playoffs.
The following season, Chicago accumulated 10 wins, but the Vikings also reached 10 wins when they knocked off the Packers in week 17 on a last second field goal. Because the Vikings owned the tiebreaker, the Bears were forced to watch the playoffs from home.
And finally, that brings us to this past season. The Bears was less than a minute away from being crowned the kings in the North when Aaron Rodgers hooked up with Randall Cobb for a fourth down touchdown that knocked them out of the postseason.
Still, 2014 offered a glimpse into Chicago’s bright future under the guidance of new head coach Marc Trestman. Offensively, the Bears were among the best. Even when Cutler went down with a torn groin and, later, an ankle injury, Trestman’s offense continued to roll. The Bears would finish the season ranked eighth in yards per game, third in yards per play, and second in total points.
Meanwhile, the defense suffered a historically awful year. With injuries to players like Lance Briggs, Henry Melton and D.J. Williams, Mel Tucker’s defense surrendered the third most yards and the second most points in the league.
Welcome to your 2014 Bears, Chicago.
Last Year’s Stud: Matt Forte
A difficult choice, especially when considering the numbers that both Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery put up, but Forte earns this distinction due to his versatility. The dude does it all, running (1339 yards, 4.6 average, 9 TDs) and catching (74 receptions, 594 yards, 3 TDs).
Runner-up: Brandon Marshall (100 receptions, 1295 yards, 12 TDs, and this)
Last Year’s Surprise: Josh McCown
When Jay Cutler went down, it looked like the 2011 Caleb Hanie nightmare all over again. Then, McCown proceeded to throw 13 touchdowns and only one interception. And no, I don’t care what you or Brian Urlacher says, Jay Cutler is still a better quarterback. Now, McCown is in Tampa Bay and the Bears’ backup will either be the other Palmer quarterback or rookie David Fales.
Runner-up: Alshon Jeffery (89 receptions, 1421 yards, 7 TDs)
Last Year’s Disappointment: Shea McClellin
The only significant play that McClellin — a former first-round pick — made was breaking Aaron Rodgers’ collarbone in week nine, which ended up being irrelevant when Rodgers returned in week 17 to break every heart in Chicago into a million different scattered pieces. Now McClellin’s returning in 2014 as a linebacker, eagerly hoping to avoid the bust title that is a season away from being placed upon him.
Runner-up: the entire defense
Apparently, Phil Emery likes drafting formerly fat players. In 2012, Emery moved up in the second-round to acquire gamecock Alshon Jeffery, who — after a 88-catch, 1517-yard and nine-touchdown sophomore season — weighed in at 230 pounds during his junior season, and watched his production and his draft stock drop as a result.
Jeffery lost the extra baggage and we all know what happened since:
This year, Emery hopes his third-round selection, Will Sutton, will become the anchor of Chicago’s defense. As a junior at Arizona State, Sutton often wrecked havoc in the backfield, compiling 13 sacks and 23.5 tackles for a loss. But in his senior season, his weight skyrocketed and, like Jeffery, his production and draft stock plummeted.
That Emery was able to snag Sutton in the third-round bodes well for the future of Chicago’s defense. If Sutton can regain his 2012 form — he’s back down to around 290 pounds — he, along with first-rounder Kyle Fuller and second-round pick Ego Ferguson, should bolster Chicago’s flimsy defense.
Other notable pick: Ka’Deem Carey
This Year’s Stud: Jay Cutler
The last time Jay Cutler got to work within the same offense for a second consecutive year was 2011. In that injury-shortened season, Cutler averaged around 230 passing yards per game and his interception rate was at a career-low 2.2 percent. In Cutler’s first season paired with quarterback guru Marc Trestman, the gunslinger posted career highs in yards per game, touchdown percentage, and quarterback rating. Expect big things in year two with Trestman.
Runner-up: Lamarr Houston
This Year’s Surprise: Marquess Wilson
Earl Bennett is gone, and the No. 3 WR job is all Wilson’s. Most tend to remember Wilson for quitting on his team at WSU, but he also did this kind of stuff.
Runner-up: Stephen Paea
This Year’s Disappointment: Jon Bostic
There’s no way around it — Bostic was awful last season when he was forced to step in at middle linebacker after D.J. Williams went down injured. With Williams and Briggs healthy, Bostic will compete with Shea McClellin for the coveted third linebacker spot. He has a good chance to beat out McClellin, but then again, that’s not exactly saying much.
Runner-up: Roberto Garza
Draft early: Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall, and Alshon Jeffery
Good value in the middle rounds: Jay Cutler and Martellus Bennett
Don’t draft: Marquess Wilson and the Defense/Special teams
What Vegas is saying (LVH sports book): 8-8
What We’re Saying: 10-6, 1st place in the NFC North
Nobody is doubting Trestman’s offense — the Bears scored the most points last season of any team not quarterbacked by Peyton Manning. If Cutler stays healthy and if the defense manages to be a middle of the pack unit, the Bears should compete with the Packers for the NFC North crown.